Viceroy’s House

“Partition is bad. But whatever is past is past. We have only to look to the future.” – Mahatma Gandhi

In 1947, the lives of the inhabitants of India were changed forever. It was a time of both great celebration and exceptional devastation that still has a ripple effect throughout southeast Asia. Straight after the second world war, England was divesting itself of much of its commonwealth influence. After 300 years of rule in the land of India, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) was brought in to be the last Viceroy of India and to hand control back to the Indian people. This historical diplomatic event was marred by the multiple religious factions who desired to be put into power. After different considerations for the transition, Lord Mountbatten determined that the best means of maintaining stability within Asia was to allow the establishment of the Muslim nation, Pakistan.

The process leading up to the  partition causes unrest throughout the nation which even impacts the staff of the Viceroy’s house. As the British leadership makes the decisions that will reverberate throughout India, they have to come to terms with the divisions that are occurring within the servants quarters. This has personal implications that effect the worlds of Jeet (Manish Dayal) and Aalia (Huma Qureshi) who have served the British leadership faithfully. During their service to the Mountbattens, the young Indians have fallen in love with one another. Due to his Hindu and her Muslim heritage, their romance is reminiscent of  Romeo and Juliet and provides the heart to this historical period piece from award-winning director Gurinder Chadha of Bend it Like Beckham fame.

Outside of the subcontinent, people may not be familiar with the dramatic events that surrounded the partition of India. This fascinating, but unfamiliar portion of history provides intriguing possibilities for audiences to experience. Chadha has admitted that this production is exceptionally personal and she relishes in sharing these events with audiences around the world. The primary challenge for this seasoned director is to overlay the fictitious romance over the actual political events.

The historical elements provide the most arresting portions of the storyline. Even if audiences are unfamiliar with these events, the political tension makes for captivating drama. Bonneville and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) manage to personify the Mountbattens with convincing accuracy and their intentions for the best resolution for the Indian people. Their personal and diplomatic relationship delivers some of the most compelling elements of the film. The seasoned thespian pair attempt to carry the story through, even though their marriage is not the primary love interest in the film.

What was unfortunate for this production was Chadha’s choice not focus on the actual historical couple. Instead she  focusses on the romance between Jeet and Aalia. This depiction of forbidden love fails to add anything to the story. The chemistry between these two never reaches the emotional levels needed to be convincing and merely becomes an unnecessary distraction. The dependance on this relationship undermines the whole production, because it is meant to provide the heart of the film. The love story is meant to depict the personal impact that the partition of India had on the people, but this never achieves this goal.

The political elements seem to come straight from a docu-drama and the failure of the key love story to capture the hearts of the audience leave Viceroy’s House without any life residing within. It is fascinating and educational for those who love to delve into history, but does not prove the emotional components to compel audiences to connect with the events that impacted this fascinating country and its people.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film

  1. What is the value of family? (Genesis 2:24, Exodus 20:12, Psalm 22:6, John 15:12-17)
  1. Does God care about overcoming obstacles in life? (Psalm 27:1, Isaiah 41:3, James 1:19-21)
  1. How are we to respond to negativity and hate? (Proverbs 6:16-19, John 15:18-16:4 )

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.